Vladimir Putin Denies Bitcoin Financing Claims to Donald Trump About 2016 US Election Hacking

Russia Used Bitcoin To Finance 2016 US Election Hacking, According To Mueller Indictments

Last week, the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking the 2016 United States elections. In the indictment, it’s revealed that the Russian intelligence officers used bitcoin to finance their operation.

The 12 Russian intelligence officers penetrated computer systems during the 2016 presidential election. They partly financed their hacking attempts using bitcoin. Special counsel Robert Mueller described the bitcoin-related activities in a section of the indictment focused on money laundering:

“The Defendants conspired to launder the equivalent of more than $95,000 through a web of transactions structured to capitalize on the perceived anonymity of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.”

The hackers allegedly purchased computer servers and registered domains using bitcoin. Domain name registration services and computer hardware manufacturers were among the first major online merchants to accept cryptocurrencies. Domain registration company Namecheap, for example, made headlines back in 2013 for being one of the first major companies to accept bitcoin.

Using bitcoin, the hackers were able to avoid using traditional banks to finance their activities. The hackers used bitcoin to help conceal their identity.

Mueller’s indictment further expands on the use of bitcoin by the Russian intelligence officers:

“The use of bitcoin allowed the Conspirators to avoid direct relationships with traditional financial institutions, allowing them to evade greater scrutiny of their identities and sources of funds.”

The Russian intelligence officers used other methods to conceal their identity. The indictment mentions that the officers used several “dedicated email accounts” to track the bitcoin transactions, for example. A single email account named gfadel47 received bitcoin payment requests from approximately 100 different email accounts, according to the special investigation.

The Russian officers also used fake names to mask their identity. When purchasing a Malaysian server farm, for example, the officers used names like Ward DeClaur and Mike Long. That Malaysian server farm was later used to plant malware on the networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

$95,000 may not seem like an extraordinary sum of money. However, as CBS News reports, the style of attack used by the Russian officers was never going to be costly:

“It costs very little money,” CNET senior producer Dan Patterson said in an interview on CBS News. “What they really invested in was psychological warfare, making sure they could trick people into falling for these spear phishing type of attacks.”

One of the most popular tactics used by the Russian intelligence officers, for example, was to trick staffers into clicking on emails from rogue accounts. This was a “very simple attack” that nonetheless fooled staffers into revealing usernames and passwords to the Russian intelligence officers. This access data was later used to infiltrate the entire network. The operatives also used known security holes in Microsoft Exchange to expand their attack.

Similar tactics were used in Ukraine. In fact, Russia may have tested the tactics in Ukraine before launching a full-scale cyberattack against the United States:

“They did the same thing in Ukraine,” Patterson revealed in that same interview with CBS news. “In fact, the Russians probably used Ukraine as a test bed for cyberattacks targeted at the U.S.”

Russia’s Attacks Against Ukraine Focused On The Country’s Electrical Grid.

It’s no secret that bitcoin can be used to launder money and commit other criminal activities. However, it’s nonetheless surprising to see bitcoin mentioned in the indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The investigation continues – and it seems unlikely this is the last time cryptocurrencies will be mentioned.

 

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